The Anti-Egoist: Kingsley Amis, Man of Letters

The Anti-Egoist: Kingsley Amis, Man of Letters

by Paul Fussell

"Fussell is a wonderful writer," according to The Washington Post Book World, "at once elegant and earthy." With such books as Wartime and The Great War and Modern Memory, he established a reputation as an incisive critic with a razor-tipped pen. Now Paul Fussell turns his attention to one of his own literary heroes, a man of similar acidic wit,


"Fussell is a wonderful writer," according to The Washington Post Book World, "at once elegant and earthy." With such books as Wartime and The Great War and Modern Memory, he established a reputation as an incisive critic with a razor-tipped pen. Now Paul Fussell turns his attention to one of his own literary heroes, a man of similar acidic wit, Kingsley Amis.
In The Anti-Egotist, Fussell captures the essence of Amis as a man of letters—"a serious critic," as John Gross writes, "operating outside the academic fold." Part biography, part critical appraisal, The Anti-Egotist traces the influences that have shaped Amis's writing, ranging from his schooldays through military service to university teaching, as he emerged as a novelist, poet, and essayist. By drawing our attention to the details first of Amis's life, then of his writing, Fussell reveals the profound moral sense that expresses itself so wonderfully in Amis's fiction and criticism. He mixes affection with insight as he paints a highly personal portrait of Amis as writer who despises self-promotion in all its forms, savaging the world's show-offs and blowhards with a particularly sharp-toothed bite. Amis's criticism, too, shook the British literary world with his "no-nonsense, can-the-bullshit tone," restoring skepticism and honesty to postwar English writing. Fussell guides us through Amis's immense output—portraying him as a book reviewer, custodian of language, gastronomic critic, anthologist, and poet—showing how his overriding concern is always for the public, deriding pretensions that come at a cost to the audience. And the power of Amis's writing, from his humor to his deft characterization, rings through in page after page of Fussell's accurate and evocative assessments.
In recent years, Kingsley Amis has drawn considerable fire, thanks to his outspoken conservative opinions; many critics see him as little more than a crusty old curmudgeon. In The Anti-Egotist, Paul Fussell does the reading public a double favor in restoring the reputation of this important writer: he effortlessly captures the literary virtuosity that lifted Amis to fame, and he reveals the moral convictions that make this seeming curmudgeon more relevant than ever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The witty prose of National Book Award winner Fussell ( The Great War and Modern Memory ) serves him well in this apologia for the equally incisive Amis. Focusing more on Amis's essays, poetry, book reviews and even restaurant reviews than on his fiction, Fussell attempts to refute the prevailing assessment of the British writer as a baleful reactionary, a ``literary rottweiler.'' He recasts Amis as a true man of letters, who wrote for the reading public rather than for the literary establishment, and as a blunt critic of self-promotion and pretention. It is hard to imagine a writer better suited than Fussell to appraise Amis's career; given Fussell's own reputation as a curmudgeon (he titled a recent evaluation of American culture Bad: Or, the Dumbing of America ), one can't help feeling that this spirited book is an act of self-defense as well. (Sept.)
Library Journal
This study of Amis by well-known literary and social critic Fussell is part biography and part literary analysis of Amis's nonfiction. Yet while Fussell summarizes and praises Amis's criticism, anthologies, memoirs, journalism, and poetry, he provides little in-depth analysis, and his discussion of Amis's life is sketchy and anecdotal. Moreover, he tends to ramble from discussion of Amis and his work to whining complaints about contemporary life and literature. Indeed, the book's organizing principles seem to be that Amis is the only living person who cares about literature and that anyone who disagrees with Amis and Fussell is wrong. Amis deserves better than this. Not recommended.-Judy Mimken, Saginaw Valley State Univ., Mich.
Part biography, part critical appraisal, this book traces the influences that have shaped Amis' work and lends insight into a man readily characterized, particularly in later years, as a "literary rottweiler." Drawing attention first to Amis' life, then to his work--his book reviews, gastronomic criticism, poetry, and essays are treated here, as well as his novels--Fussell's even-handed yet engaging prose reveals the moral sensibilities that have informed, perhaps at times misinformed, Amis' writing. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Greg Burkman
Arriving only a few months after Kingsley Amis' latest novel, "The Russia Girl", Fussell's extensive monograph on Amis is particularly timely. It also provides relief from the "barbarous mock-scientific baboo language" that characterizes "university talk." In spite of Fussell's own Yankee pretensions to Anglicism, "The Anti-Egotist" is a "can-the-bullshit" book that traces Amis' lifelong aversion to all things counterfeit and pompous in prose, poetry, criticism, teaching, and life. Frank, free of academic cant, and satirically intolerant of the very pretensions Amis savages, Fussell's study corrects the prevalent critical opinion of Amis as an old-school reactionary conservative. The book instead makes a case for Amis as one of the great literary moralists of the century, a man of letters, among the last of his kind, absolutely and actively opposed to all forms of niggardliness, selfishness, and self-aggrandizement in life and art. Not for prudes or pursed-lipped purveyors of dogma, this is impeccably researched. A must for American and British criticism collections, and a boon for common readers who want clear, funny, level-headed literary discussion instead of rarefied "critical theory."

Product Details

Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.69(w) x 8.69(h) x 0.86(d)

Meet the Author

About the Author:
Paul Fussell is the author of a number of books of literary and cultural criticism and social history. They include The Great War and Modern Memory (winner of the National Book Award), Abroad: British Literary Travelling Between the Wars, and Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War.

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